Pink Suits and Handbags: Elvis Tears Down Stereotypes in Baz Luhrmann’s Biopic | Elvis Presley
Jhe hottest pop heart wears candy pink suits and lace blouses, and drives teenage crowds wild with her beestung pout and perfectly styled banana. Forty-five years after his death, he is preparing for a successful summer. Step aside, Harry Styles – Elvis is back in the building.
An opulent biopic directed by Baz Luhrmann which arrives in cinemas later this month portrays the king of rock ‘n’ roll as a boldly counter-cultural artist whose music and image challenge the prejudices and stereotypes of the world that surrounds it.
“I try to make films to deal with what’s happening now,” the director said at a screening hosted by GQ magazine in London this week. Luhrmann and his wife and collaborator, costume designer Catherine Martin, created a delicate and feminine on-screen portrayal of teenage Elvis. He wears lace blouses and carries his tapes in a shiny leather bag. Heavy eyelids and pout under a sailor cap, he sways on stage with an energy that speaks as much to Beyoncé and Christina Aguilera as to traditional rock’n’roll. In Luhrmann’s luscious tale of mythology, the title role, played by 30-year-old American actor Austin Butler, is cast as a beautiful innocent trapped in the wiles of her manager, Colonel Tom Parker, played against type. by Tom Hanks.
The film explores how Elvis’ upbringing in a predominantly black Memphis neighborhood shaped his music and style. At the GQ screening, British singer Yola, who plays Sister Rosetta Tharpe – the queer, black “godmother of rock ‘n’ roll” revered by Lizzo as a hero – recalled Luhrmann, saying: “We have to put the story in context, for CA watch [Elvis] came from a black world. The young star is mesmerized by gospel during a church service and sings with BB King at the Club Handy blues venue on Beale Street, Memphis. Newspaper headlines played on the screen – “Elvis the pelvis belongs to the jungle”, “The white boy with black hips” – testify to the prejudice and hostility with which the black roots of his hits were greeted by the American establishment. Luhrmann told GQ that Elvis was “at the center of culture, for the good, the bad and the ugly. And you can’t talk about America in those days without talking about race.
Fashion in Elvis is a three-way collaboration between Luhrmann, Martin and designer Miuccia Prada, who has been designing clothes for Luhrmann’s films for 30 years and dressed the entire cast for the recent Met Gala in New York. Luhrmann recently told Vogue that the conversation with Prada tends to veer away from clothes and “goes top and bottom, politics to…sort of trash.” In the film, some looks rework outfits that Elvis and other characters wore in real life, while others take artistic license from the Prada and Miu Miu archives.
Luhrmann spoke at this week’s screening of his love for “the color and the dazzle, but also the darkness” of popular culture, a perspective he shares with Prada, which fuses subcultural currents with gleaming glamor on its catwalks. At the same event, Martin described costume design as “a process of supporting storytelling and characterization…in ballroom dancing, they say the woman is the flower and the man is the vase. In a film, I am the vase and Baz and the actors are the flowers.
The story’s dramatic beats are echoed in the evolution of Elvis’ wardrobe. Teenage Elvis’ ethereal fairy-tale princess palette is replaced with boxy olive greens for his military posting, then ominous sunset yellows and oranges for an era of cheesy Hollywood movies. The decadence of his later years is at first full of excitement and allure, with a still-handsome Elvis dressed in a sleek, narrow-hipped, plum-colored Prada suit with a high Napoleonic collar sticking up to frame pointed cheekbones. The descent into drugged Las Vegas sleaze plays out in a world of capes and jumpsuits, huge gold rings and nylon babydolls, neon lights and remote-controlled curtains.
But the film offers audiences an antidote to the tragedy of Elvis in its portrayal of his wife, Priscilla Presley, who “went from that quintessential 1950s woman to her own wife in the 1960s and 1970s, in a story that reflects the journey of women in this century,” Martin said. “She survived being Elvis’ wife – imagine that,” said Olivia DeJonge, who plays Priscilla.
Many of Prada’s most dramatic costumes for the film — including a lemony skirt suit and beaded top worn with flared brocade pants — are those created for DeJonge. They are deliberately modern, designed to bring Priscilla Presley to life for a contemporary audience. DeJonge first met Presley at the Cannes screening of the film and recalled that “at the end, we were holding hands and crying.”